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COPE Digest: Publication Ethics in Practice. January 2015 (Vol. 3, Issue 1)

Letter from the Editor

So 2015 starts with news on the usual challenges editors face. A survey by Leeds University finds dissatisfaction by academics about the variable quality of editorial decisions. Elsewhere, an editor was alerted to a fake review and had to withdraw a paper. Another study finds that self-citation in peer review is common and is likely to be coercive in some cases. And then there is plagiarism, which appears to be more common in articles from developing countries where English is not widely spoken So editors have to continuously deal with misconduct and hope, as Liz Wager recommends, that institutions will take action….

If you would like to contribute items or have other suggestions, as always, please get in touch (contact us here).


Education in publication ethics

Report from the COPE Education Committee

The Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education (JMBE) published a themed issue on scientific ethics in December 2014. Several papers in this issue related to the education of students of all levels about the responsible conduct of research. Of particular interest was an article by Andrea Pratt Rediske on using COPE resources to teach ethical writing skills ( Many COPE resources are free to anyone, so they can be used in writing assignments, as suggested by Dr Rediske, who cites using the eLearning module, cases, and guidelines for various types of assignments. Although the COPE resources were developed to support our members (journal editors and publishers), many of these free resources can be adapted to a variety of other uses, such as education of students.  Because they are all available online, these resources can also be easily accessed from online courses.

If you are looking for more ideas about education related to research integrity, browse the table of contents of this entire issue ( for new inspiration about teaching your science students this important content.

In the news

Academics concerned by variable quality of editorial decisions

A survey by Leeds University of 830 people found that about 60% consider the quality of academic journal editors to be “very variable” with rejections without explanation

Retraction due to fake review

Notice of retraction in Medicine for “Association study of TGFBR2 and miR-518 gene polymorphisms with age at natural menopause, premature ovarian failure and early menopause among Chinese Han women”. Using a fictitious account, a review was submitted using the name of a known scientist without their knowledge

The retraction war

How ambitions of researchers and journals compromise science

Study of massive preprint archive hints at the geography of plagiarism

Articles from developing countries where English is not widely spoken tend to contain large amounts of reused text at a much higher rate than the norm

Liz Wager asks how should journal editors respond to cases of suspected misconduct

Journals should take responsibility for everything they publish and should alert institutions to cases of possible serious misconduct but should not attempt to investigate such cases. Institutions should take responsibility for their researchers

Potentially coercive self-citation by peer reviewers

Peer reviews for manuscripts submitted in 2012 to the Journal of Psychosomatic Research finds that self-citation in peer review is common and is likely to be coercive in some cases

Publons puts peer review activity online and rewards top reviewers with prizes

The debate and the sting: Malcolm Jobling writes “At present I keep my reviews anonymous — I have done some signed reviews but on such occasions have sometimes been contacted by authors who have not only expected additional help but have seemed to want me to rewrite the manuscript for them. Based on these experiences I have now opted to remain anonymous.”

Elsevier’s Reviewer Recognition Platform prepares for next phase

The platform provides participating reviewers with a personalised profile page where their reviewing history is documented. Reviewer status is awarded based on the number of reviews they have completed for a specific journal

Association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases

Concern about exaggerated press releases on biomedical and health related science issued by 20 leading UK universities

Research grant misconduct falls in China 

In 2014, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) has seen fewer cases of scientific misconduct—especially plagiarism and duplicate submissions—in grant applications

How to get published in an academic journal: top tips from editors

Useful advice from editors with a range of backgrounds, especially for students

Publication ethics

From the Medico-Legal Journal

What's been happening at COPE

COPE European Seminar 2015

The COPE European Seminar 2015 will once again be held in Brussels, Belgium, on 16-17 April 2015.

The theme of this year's European seminar is “Weighed and measured: how metrics shape publication (mis)behaviour”. Editors, publishers, authors and all those interested in publication ethics are welcome to attend. The full programme will be available shortly. In addition to the all day seminar on Friday 17 April, COPE is holding a half-day Workshop on Thursday 16 April (2.30-4.30pm) with discussion of ethical cases.The full programme will be available shortly.

The seminar will include invited talks, a panel discussion and interactive workshops.

The seminar is free for COPE members and £300 for non-members. Numbers are limited and early booking is advisable. For more information and to register, see the COPE website

December Forum cases

The cases presented at the COPE December Forum, along with the advice given and together with updates on previous cases, are now on the COPE website to view.

New cases

14-09 Institutional review board approval required?

14-10 Possible self-plagiarism and/or prior publication

14-11 Possible omission of information essential for conclusions in a research paper


13-18 Claim of plagiarism in published article

14-01 Potential fabrication of data in primary studies included in a meta-analysis accepted for publication

14-04 A case with no independent institution to investigate

14-07 Authors’ contributions and involvement by medical communications company

Case round up 2014

Eleven cases were discussed at the quarterly Forum meetings in 2014. For the first time, all of the Forums were conducted via webinar. They proved to be very successful, and have achieved one of our main aims—reaching more of our global membership. Our March Forum saw members from 15 different countries (attendance 46), the July Forum reached members from 18 different countries (attendance 42), the September Forum saw members from 9 different countries (attendance 35) while in December we had 32 members from 12 different countries. Participation has been from countries as wide-ranging as Australia and New Zealand, India, Brazil, Myanmar, Japan, Iran, Pakistan, among others, as well as from all over Europe and the USA. For 2015, we plan to conduct all of our quarterly Forums in this way. We also plan to meet with members face to face at meetings around the world. 
If you have attended one of our webinars, we are always keen to receive your feedback. You can contact us here

What needs or does not need ethical review/approval was a common theme in 2014. The COPE Forum discussion topic in July 2014 dealt with just this issue: "Fair play for “researchers”: Can editors and regulators develop a common approach to the need (or lack of need) for ethical review?". A summary of the discussion and the comments can be found here. Additionally, two cases addressed the need for ethical approval. In Case 14-08 - Institutional review board approval needed? - the editor asked is there ever a time when IRB approval should not be required before review and publication of research? In Case 14-09 - Institutional review board approval required? - the Forum discussed whether research is publishable in the absence of IRB approval when the authors stated that the research was exempt quoting US federal regulations. 

Other cases covered topics such as data fabrication/manipulation (Case 14-01; Case 14-05) and image manipulation (Case 14-03). Authorship issues cropped up several times during the year, including this issue of self-plagiarism/prior publication (Case 14-10) and who qualifies for authorship (Case 14-02; Case 14-07).